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Tuesday, February 22, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

What was learned: Scientists at MU are using a Veterinary Medical Database to identify cancer links between dogs and humans. The database was created in 1964 by the National Cancer Institutes of Health to catalog information about cases that had been discharged from U.S. and Canadian veterinary medical teaching hospitals. The database, housed at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine, holds more than 6.5 million case abstracts.

Why it matters: Researchers are studying the cases to answer questions about cancer that affects both dogs and humans — in hopes of finding treatments for humans.

Some cancers in canines, such as lymphoma, behave similarly in humans. Because the database has information on diagnoses, procedures and discharge status of animal cases, the researchers can make more comparisons than would otherwise be possible, said Allen Hahn, professor emeritus of veterinary medicine and surgery at MU and president of the database.

Why it matters: By accessing the database and researching trends, Carolyn Henry, associate professor of veterinary oncology at MU, and Charles Caldwell, director of the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, found that female dogs that had not been spayed were the least likely to develop lymphoma. This parallels the data for humans because non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 50 percent more common among men than women. The research may indicate that estrogen is a protective factor against lymphoma, Henry said.

Even though there is a database for humans containing similar information, researchers can learn more from the veterinary database because the animals have more controlled lifestyles in regard to diet and behavior than humans, and their life spans are quicker than people’s. This allows scientists to ask more specific questions and make more comparisons. Future studies may include factors such as hormones, obesity and lifestyles and how they relate to cancer risks.

Where to find information: The study was presented at the Veterinary Cancer Society Conference in November. The abstract was published in the Journal of Veterinary and Comparative Oncology.

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